By Farzad Mesbahi
It's no secret that words like Communism, Socialism, and Marxism are things that a portion of the public quickly points a finger to as evil. In many cases these political systems are bundled up with a lot of failed experiments in government (USSR as an example). In addition, all of the modern versions of a Socialistic or Communist society are usually tied with high taxes, too much control by the central government, or iron fist ruling by an individual (and sometimes all of the above.) Fundamentally, these systems go haywire due to the greed and the want of power of individuals placed at the helm.
I'm sure a lot of you reading this have heard a statement like "If society and humans were perfect, then Socialism would be the perfect system for all." This assumes that greed, want, and luxury are all part of the things that make a society imperfect. But what if I told you that there potentially was a future ahead of us where a worldwide Socialist society would not only exist, but essentially become the default system for the entire planet?
Before we begin, I recommend reading thru a previous piece that outlines technology's role (specifically AI and robotics) that would play the biggest part in making this happen (link is here http://www.degeneratestalk.com/posts/2015/12/14/artificial-intelligence-the-best-worst-thing-ever). If you don't have time for that, here's a quick synopsis:
- Technological advancement in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics is getting exponentially faster. It is conceivable to deduce that in 40-50 years time, we will live in a society where a lot of the things done by humans today will be replaced by robots and AI for a fraction of the cost and faster turnaround times.
In order to fully appreciate this impact, let's dig a little bit deeper and try to identify what this means based on today's make up of some of the major cogs of a given work force (this is clearly not a full-encompassing list of all industries, but a sample of the impact that we could see):
- Manufacturing: Entire plants today are run by a mixture of robotics, AI, and humans. The majority of a given company's workforce is doing the dirty work (i.e. putting the stuff together, making the materials, etc.) A small number of the workforce is part of financial planning, design, marketing, sales, etc. Technological advancements and innovation could one day lead to the entire manufacturing process to be fully automated, eliminating the need of everyone doing the dirty work. Company saves millions, product becomes cheaper to produce due to manufacturing improvements from said change, but millions of people are out of work
- Distribution/Service: Every truck/van requires a driver. Every warehouse requires a picker, be it on the floor by hand or on a fork lift. Minority of the staff is in the back office doing customer service, sales, marketing, etc. (very similar to the manufacturing company.) Tech advancements lead to fully automated put away, picking, and loading. Autonomous trucks, trains. planes, and drones deliver products to destinations. Company saves millions, service becomes cheaper to offer, but millions of people are yet again out of work.
- Sales and Retail: With the advent of the internet, brick and mortar shopping locations have seen very tough competition from the likes of Amazon, eBay, and other online retailers (be it grocery, clothing, electronics, etc.) Although the concept of shopping for things in person will likely never go away, every person working the register could be replaced by check-out registers magnitude-times better than the ones available today (self-checkout is often a pain, but the self-checkout register 40 years from now will be a different beast.) Same-day delivery by drone from online retailers could become the preferred method of shopping, rendering many storefronts obsolete. Again, a small portion of the workforce for the company that survive will remain in the back office, but millions of people will again be out of work
- Management/Professional: This section probably applies to the entire White Collar workforce that requires some thinking on their feet by today's standards. These can be your Microsoft Excel people, financial analysts, salespeople, executives, bankers, lawyers, and the like. It is widely viewed today that jobs like these will be very tough to replace through today's technology. Unless we see continued advancement in Artificial Intelligence, people in these positions should be good for a long time. However, if you had a chance to read the previously linked article, there's really no telling what jobs will or won't be replaced by the advent of advanced AI. For the time being, let's assume that most of these jobs stay put in human's hands. A big chunk of the repair and maintenance industry can also be thrown under this umbrella (plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and the like)
Let's look at what this means from a "numbers" standpoint using data from the Henry J. Kaiser website for the US population (http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/blue-and-white-collar-workers/). For this exercise, let's assume that in 40 years time every Blue Collar job (like the ones outlined above but excluding all the management/professional types) is at risk to be replaced by a combination of robotics and AI:
- According to the website, there's 146 million total occupations in the United States, with 88 million of those considered non-professional/management, or Blue Collar jobs. That makes up roughly 60% of the total workforce who's job today could be entirely replaced by the advancement and innovation of technology
- In order to account for some very drastic deviations due to me not being able to look into the future, let's assume that 50% of the Blue Collar population is non-replaceable due to whatever factors we choose to come up with in 40 years time. That renders about 44 million people that could lose their jobs. For reference, today's US unemployment rate is 5.5%, which is about 17 million people. That means that the potential unemployed population could be somewhere around 61 million people (17 + 44), or about 20%. This is a lot of people. Remember the financial crisis in 2008? That was about 10% unemployment, which would make this twice as bad. These jobs are never coming back due to robots, automation, and AI taking over completely
- Let's assume that the average person in the 44 million bucket makes an average of $35,000 a year. That means that about $1.5 trillion dollars a year would exit the economy entirely. To put that in perspective, Apple does about $233 billion of revenue each year. Walmart does about $485 billion. Volkswagen $245 billion. Toyota $227 billion. Samsung $305 billion. That totals to about $1.5 trillion. Think about the immense size of each one of these companies, and Imagine each one of them doing $0 a year and completely disappearing (in reality, it would take a whole lot less than the amounts listed to make these companies bankrupt, as the profit margins of these companies are 30% at the very best case, and much less in most cases. It would only take a third of the $1.5 trillion to exit the economy to bankrupt these companies)
Kind of grim, no? Let's try to instigate this a little further with this chart:
What's interesting is that the first square on this chart can be replaced with any economic event that would cause a loss of jobs. in the case of technological advancement, robotics, AI, and automation, the jobs in question would be lost forever. Economic bubbles typically recover, but replacement of jobs thru automation are never to be seen again.
The statement that most people jump to when this whole premise comes to light is "there will always be something for people to do - new technology will always bring forth new opportunities." This is obviously an extremely logical and true statement, but the thing that could nullify it is this - there could be a point in the future where technological advancements themselves could provide the key to achieve new jobs without the need of human intervention. In a capitalist society, a company's main goal is to make as much of a product as possible and sell that product for as little cost as possible. Leveraging technology to introduce automation thru robotics and AI are the biggest steps to achieve low costs. Every head that a company doesn't pay wages on is money in its pocket to invest into automation. Innovation in technology is the key to this achievement.
The irony here is that there's a logical tipping point where too much automation will cripple the job market and people's purchasing power will be devastated thru massive job losses, so the surviving companies and its products in question won't be affordable by a sizeable portion of the population. This leaves the door open for the maximization of an oligarchy - the few people that are "lucky" enough to have jobs will be able to afford the amazing things technology will be able to offer 40-50 years from now, and would be an immensely powerful influential force in government because of it (if you thought today was bad with Super PACs...). The question is - will the people stand for it?
This, ladies and gentlemen, could be the trigger that sets Socialism as the standard societal system in many countries, if not for the entirety of the planet. Before we explore how, let's look at the definition of Socialism as defined by our good friends at Merriam-Webster (click on image for source site):
In short, the government in a Socialist system (the year 2056 version of it) would be the major owner of companies, instead of individuals or other companies.
With that defined, let's try and piece together the puzzle that could get us to worldwide Socialism:
- In the year 2056, roughly 20% of the working population of any given country (let's stay in the US for this example) is jobless. The entire world is in a state of depression. Companies are continuing to innovate at an extremely fast rate to try and curb the slowing revenue from a jobless population. It is literally do or die for many of these companies. Those that aren't able to innovate quickly or effectively enough go belly-up. Those that do innovate in time - they effectively eliminate any positions that were previously held by a human. This is a lose-lose situation for the working population making the unemployment rate continue to go up.
- Unrest begins to set into the 25% - the people are fed up that their skills are no longer applicable to many jobs. New jobs are extremely few and far between, due to the fact that robots and AI are able to do those jobs much faster and way cheaper than any human could.
- Innovation continues to advance to the point where those in the previous 70% start seeing their jobs replaced by technology. The rift continues to increase between the 'have' and the 'have-nots'. A lot of previously successful people with incredibly secure careers now start feeling the effects of what the 35% have felt for quite a while. Unrest reaches a tipping point.
- In order to shield themselves from the turmoil, the 60% of the population that are considered the 'haves' start isolating themselves from society and begin to live in their near-perfect worlds. Technological advancement is now at the point where things can be enjoyed that are unimaginable today (unlimited energy from us mastering solar power, unlimited supply of food due to a perfection of our farming and food harvesting system, autonomous cars everywhere and available to anyone that chooses to ride one, stupid amounts of free time since robots and AI are figuring out all the hard problems that humans used to solve previously, etc.)
- The 45% of the population is in full on survival mode. They've been jobless for years and barely have any resources for food or shelter. Crime is at an all-time high. Fights and civil unrest are the norm. Dystopian future is in full on effect. Many people who once thought a life like this was impossible are now the ones suffering from a failing society.
- 50% of the population is now at a final tipping point.
No, the percentages are not typos - it is a way of illustrating the incredible quick pace of change we could see from technological advancements 40-50 years from now. Think about tech in the 70's and compare that to now. How do you think people would react to an iPhone, large screen TV, or car of today? Extrapolate that 50 years in the future. Hard to really imagine what is possible, right?
Did you also notice how it wasn't clarified which 50% of the population is at the tipping point? It could it be the 50% that's starving to death, or the 50% that's starting to fear what it will look like for them - be it crime against their population, replacement, or being viewed as an outcast or cancer by either part of society.
It is at this point where the inherent collective good of the people could create a system where everyone will be able to leverage the amazing products and services that will be available through technological innovation. It may take one "rogue" Trillionaire (they will have those in the future too you know) that decides to leverage his company's accomplishments to be utilized by everyone, since costs to produce and create products and services will be minimal or non-existent due to self-sustaining robotic systems. Or it might be the population that's shifting over from the 'haves' to the 'have-nots' that have already achieved a tremendous amount of advancements in tech where self-sustaining systems and AI can be enjoyed and further improved. This could render two societies that rise to the same common goal but through different paths. Maybe it's neither, and the 'haves' continue to strive to Utopia while leaving the 'have-nots' to die off, which in theory would also lead to a form of Socialism for the Utopia peeps, since everyone should be able to enjoy everything that's owned by the conglomerate of the people.
To summarize, let's try and define the gist of this entire piece with as little words as possible:
- Due to incredible advancements in technology, automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence, it could be possible to have a no-cost system of products and services in the future that the population of the world will be able to enjoy. The level of greed of those in control of these systems will decide how much of the population will get to enjoy these advancements. Depending on the path society decides to take, we may have a Socialistic society that's available to a very few, or to everyone.
Either way, it's probably a good idea that we all start thinking about what a perfect society needs to look like, because technology and innovation might give us the key we need to enjoy life in a way we've never thought possible.
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